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Serving Brooklyn's Off-Leash Community

 

Therapy Dog
by Jane Landis

Almost five years ago after 10 years of pleading, wheedling and cajoling on the part of our daughters, my husband Bob Ipcar and I finally gave in and got a puppy. Yuffie, named for a Sony PlayStation character, was not the compact Pug or Spaniel we had originally considered. She was a Neapolitan Mastiff; projected weight, between 120 and 150 pounds. But love is not rational; when we first saw those droopy brown eyes, we were smitten. There was something so intelligent and appealing about her that despite the massive size potential, we just HAD to have that dog!

At 5 months and 50 pounds, she already produced enough "poop" to necessitate carrying around the larger sized plastic shopping bags as opposed to the baggies we had had in mind. However it was a small price to pay for the delight she provided. Yuffie was housebroken in a matter of days, didn't jump up on people or furniture, came back when she was called and could be trusted in the same room with a roast chicken even if our backs were turned! She delighted in carrying the newspaper home after her park walks, was completely non-confrontational around other dogs, and best of all, she loved people. We knew we shouldn't keep Yuffie's good nature to ourselves .

At a FIDO sponsored lecture about a year and a half ago, spokespeople from "The Good Dog Foundation" an organization which certifies "therapy dogs," explained their aims and training procedures designed to bring dogs into hospitals for patient visitations. The idea instantly appealed to us. When the opportunity arose to participate in training sessions in nearby Windsor Terrace, we jumped at the chance. Yuffie "graduated" from The Good Dog Foundation training class and in no time we were volunteering at New York Methodist Hospital, serving in the geriatric and adult psych units for one hour on a biweekly basis.

The primary aim of Therapy Dog visit is to cheer the patients, although I must say that even the staff appreciates Yuffie's presence. We've seen patients who were virtually non-communicative come out of their rooms to pet our dog. Elderly patients, many of whom have problems recalling more recent events in their lives, fondly recount past and present relationships they have with their own beloved pets. Dogs can be so completely non-judgmental when it comes to illness. They see the spirit inside the person and react with favor to those who treat them with kindness, even people who are not feeling their best. And let's face it, what better solace is there after a bad day than to hug a warm fuzzy dog?

Research studies are currently being conducted by the Good Dog Foundation to support what hospital and nursing home personnel have observed all along: that the presence of animals in these institutions can deeply enrich and stimulate the patients in a profound and lasting way. Surprisingly, there is nothing negative or depressing at all about the hospital atmosphere; not to say that one never witnesses sorrow or disorientation on the part of patients from time to time. But it is more than made up for by the smiles and warm responses we receive on each visit.

As for Yuffie, she enjoys her ride up on the hospital elevator and the multitude of treats and hugs that greet her when she "goes to work". We think she knows that she is well loved and appreciated on the job and at 130+ pounds, she's got a lot of love to give back.

Think you have a good natured, low key dog that you would like to share with hospital patients? Size is no object! Contact The Good Dog Foundation here in Park Slope and schedule a screening. There is a fee for the training sessions and certification.

Go to: www.thegooddogfoundation.org

2008 note....

Yuffie passed away in 2004, as calm, considerate a working dog as you'll ever find; the most gentle of her giant breed. Though her time was far too short, our lives were the richer for having known her. Today we work with Denali, who passed his certification with the Good Dog Foundation and continues Yuffies good deeds at New York Methodist Hospital.

Bob, Jane, Katie & Jenna